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Group theory is a central part of modern mathematics. Its origins lie in geometry

(where groups describe in a very detailed way the symmetries of geometric objects)

and in the theory of polynomial equations (developed by Galois, who showed how to

associate a nite group with any polynomial equation in such a way that the structure

of the group encodes information about the process of solving the equation).

These notes contain preliminary material for the course MTHM024/MTH714U,

Group Theory (Masters/level 7) at Queen Mary. The preliminary material mostly

occurs in the courses MTH4104 Introduction to Algebra, MTH5100 Algebraic Struc-

tures I, and MTH6104 Algebraic Structures II. You can nd notes the rst two of

these courses on the lecturers web pages (Dr Toma si c and Professor Wilson). Older

versions of these notes are on my web page, while Professor Bailey has notes for Al-

gebraic Structures II. You can also nd the material in any algebra textbook, including

my own book Introduction to Algebra, published by Oxford University Press.

Material which is not in the above courses will be marked with [] in the text.

The course will begin with a review of this material.

1

1 Groups

This section denes groups, subgroups, homomorphisms, normal subgroups, and di-

rect products: some of the basic ideas of group theory. The introduction to any kind of

algebraic structure (e.g. rings) would look rather similar: we write down some axioms

and make some deductions from them. But it is important to realise that mathemati-

cians knew what was meant by a group long before they got around to writing down

axioms. We return to this after discussing Cayleys Theorem.

1.1 Denition

A group consists of a set G with a binary operation on G satisfying the following

four conditions:

Closure: For all a, b G, we have ab G.

Associativity: For all a, b, c G, we have (ab) c = a(bc).

Identity: There is an element e G satisfying e a = ae = a for all a G.

Inverse: For all a G, there is an element a

G satisfying aa

=a

a =e (where

e is as in the Identity Law).

The element e is the identity element of G. It is easily shown to be unique. In

the Inverse Law, the element a

inverse.

Strictly speaking, the Closure Law is not necessary, since a binary operation on a

set necessarily satises it; but there are good reasons for keeping it in. The Associative

Law is obviously the hardest to check from scratch.

A group is abelian if it also satises

Commutativity: For all a, b G, we have ab = ba.

Most of the groups in this course will be nite. The order of a nite group G,

denoted [G[, is simply the number of elements in the group. A nite group can in

principle be specied by a Cayley table, a table whose rows and columns are indexed

by group elements, with the entry in row a and column b being a b. Here are two

examples.

e a b c

e e a b c

a a b c e

b b c e a

c c e a b

e a b c

e e a b c

a a e c b

b b c e a

c c b a e

2

They are called the cyclic group and Klein group of order 4, and denoted by C

4

and V

4

respectively. Both of them are abelian.

Two groups (G

1

, ) and (G

2

, ) are called isomorphic if there is a bijective map f

from G

1

to G

2

which preserves the group operation, in the sense that f (a) f (b) =

f (ab) for all a, b G

1

. We write (G

1

, )

= (G

2

, ), or simply G

1

=G

2

, to denote that

the groups G

1

and G

2

are isomorphic. From an algebraic point of view, isomorphic

groups are the same.

As an exercise, show that the two groups above are not isomorphic. The numbers

of groups of orders 1, . . . , 8 (up to isomorphism) are given in the following table:

Order 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Number 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 5

We have given the denition rather formally. For most of the rest of the course,

the group operation will be denoted by juxtaposition (that is, we write ab instead of

ab); the identity will be denoted by 1; and the inverse of a will be denoted by a

1

.

Occasionally, the group operation will be +, the identity 0, and the inverse of a is a.

If g and a are elements of a group G, we dene the conjugate g

a

of g by a to be the

element a

1

ga. If we call two elements g, h conjugate if h = g

a

for some a G, then

conjugacy is an equivalence relation, and so the group is partitioned into conjugacy

classes. (If a group is abelian, then two elements are conjugate if and only if they are

equal.)

1.2 Subgroups

A subset H of a group G is called a subgroup if it forms a group in its own right (with

respect to the same operation).

Since the associative law holds in G, it automatically holds in H; so we only have

to check the closure, identity and inverse laws to ensure that H is a subgroup. (Since

the associative law is the hardest to check directly, this observation means that, in

order to show that a structure is a group, it is often better to identify it with a subgroup

of a known group than to verify the group laws directly.)

We write H is a subgroup of G as H G; if also H ,= G, we write H < G.

A subgroup H of a group G gives rise to two partitions of G:

Right cosets: sets of the form Ha =ha : h H;

Left cosets: sets of the form aH =ah : h H.

The easiest way to see that, for example, the right cosets form a partition of G is to

observe that they are equivalence classes for the equivalence relation

R

dened by

3

a b if and only if ba

1

H. In particular, this means that Ha = Hb if and only if

b Ha. In other words, any element of a coset can be used as its representative.

The number of right cosets of H in G is called the index of H in G, written [G : H[.

(The number of left cosets is the same.)

The cardinality of any right coset Ha of H is equal to [H[, since the map h ha

is a bijection from H to Ha. So G is partitioned into classes of size [H[, and so

[G[ =[G : H[ [H[. We conclude:

Theorem 1.1 (Lagranges Theorem) The order of a subgroup of a group G divides

the order of G.

The term order is also used with a different, though related, meaning in group

theory. The order of an element a of a group G is the smallest positive integer m

such that a

m

= 1, if one exists; if no such m exists, we say that a has innite order.

Now, if a has order m, then the m elements 1, a, a

2

, . . . , a

m1

are all distinct and form a

subgroup of G. Hence, by Lagranges Theorem, we see that the order of any element

of G divides the order of G.

Exercises

(a) Show that, if C is a right coset of H in G, then C

1

= c

1

: c C is a left

coset of H. Show also that the map C C

1

is a bijection between right and

left cosets. Deduce that the numbers of left and right cosets are equal.

(b) Let H be a subgroup of G. Prove that a

1

Ha = a

1

ha : h H is also a

subgroup of G. (It is called a conjugate of H.)

(c) Prove that any right coset is a left coset (of a possibly different subgroup).

(d) Let H and K be subgroups of G, Show that H K is a subgroup. Give an

example to show that HK =hk : h H, k K is not always a subgroup.

1.3 Homomorphisms and normal subgroups

Let G

1

and G

2

be groups. A homomorphism from G

1

to G

2

is a map which preserves

the group operation. We will write homomorphisms on the right of their arguments:

the image of a under will be written as a. Thus the condition for to be a homo-

morphism is

(ab) = (a)(b) for all a, b G

1

,

where ab is calculated in G

1

, and (a)(b) in G

2

.

With a homomorphism are associated two subgroups:

4

Image: Im() =b G

2

: b = a for some a G

1

;

Kernel: Ker() =a G

1

: a = 1.

A subgroup H of G is said to be a normal subgroup if it is the kernel of a homo-

morphism. Equivalently, H is a normal subgroup if its left and right cosets coincide:

aH = Ha for all a G. We write H is a normal subgroup of G as HG; if H ,= G,

we write HG.

If H is a normal subgroup of G, we denote the set of (left or right) cosets by G/H.

We dene an operation on G/H by the rule

(Ha)(Hb) = Hab for all a, b G.

It can be shown that the denition of this operation does not depend on the choice of

the coset representatives, and that G/H equipped with this operation is a group, the

quotient group or factor group of G by H.

Theorem 1.2 (First Isomorphism Theorem) Let : G

1

G

2

be a homomorphism.

Then

(a) Im() is a subgroup of G

2

;

(b) Ker() is a normal subgroup of G

1

;

(c) G

1

/Ker()

= Im().

The moral of this theorem is: The best way to show that H is a normal subgroup

of G (and to identify the quotient group) is to nd a homomorphism from G to another

group whose kernel is H.

There are two further isomorphism theorems which we will recall if and when we

actually need them. This one is the most important!

1.4 Direct products

Here is a simple construction for producing new groups from old. We will see more

elaborate versions later.

Let G

1

and G

2

be groups. We dene the direct product G

1

G

2

to be the group

whose underlying set is the Cartesian product of the two groups (that is, G

1

G

2

=

(g

1

, g

2

) : g

1

G

1

, g

2

G

2

), with group operation given by

(g

1

, g

2

)(h

1

, h

2

) = (g

1

h

1

, g

2

h

2

) for all g

1

, h

1

G

1

, g

2

, h

2

G

2

.

5

It is not hard to verify the group laws, and to check that, if G

1

and G

2

are abelian, then

so is G

1

G

2

.

Note that [G

1

G

2

[ =[G

1

[ [G

2

[. The Klein group is isomorphic to C

2

C

2

.

The construction is easily extended to the direct product of more factors. The

elements of G

1

G

r

are all r-tuples such that the ith component belongs to G

i

;

the group operation is componentwise.

This is the external denition of the direct product. We also need to describe it

internally: given a group G, how do we recognise that G is isomorphic to a direct

product of two groups G

1

and G

2

?

The clue is the observation that, in the direct product G

1

G

2

, the set

H

1

=(g

1

, 1) : g

1

G

1

1

; the analogously-dened H

2

is a

normal subgroup isomorphic to G

2

.

Theorem 1.3 Let G

1

, G

2

, G be groups. Then G is isomorphic to G

1

G

2

if and only

if there are normal subgroups H

1

and H

2

of G such that

(a) H

1

= G

1

and H

2

= G

2

;

(b) H

1

H

2

=1 and H

1

H

2

= G.

(Here H

1

H

2

=ab : a H

1

, b H

2

.

There is a similar, but more complicated, theorem for recognising direct products

of more than two groups.

1.5 Presentations[]

Another method of describing a group is by means of a presentation, an expression

of the form G = S [ R). Here S is a set of generators of the group, and R a set

of relations which these generators must obey; the group G is dened to be the

largest group (in a certain well-dened sense) generated by the given elements and

satisfying the given relations.

An example will make this clear. G =a [ a

4

= 1) is the cyclic group of order 4. It

is generated by an element a satisfying a

4

=1. While other groups (the cyclic group of

order 2 and the trivial group) also have these properties, C

4

is the largest such group.

Similarly, a, b [ a

2

= b

2

= 1, ab = ba) is the Klein group of order 4.

While a presentation compactly species a group, it can be very difcult to get any

information about the group from a presentation. To convince yourself of this, try to

discover which group has the presentation

a, b, c, d, e [ ab = c, bc = d, cd = e, cd = a, ea = b).

6

2 Examples of groups

In this section we consider various examples of groups: cyclic and abelian groups,

symmetric and alternating groups, groups of units of rings, and groups of symmetries

of regular polygons and polyhedra.

2.1 Cyclic groups

A group G is cyclic if it consists of all powers of some element a G. In this case we

say that G is generated by a, and write G =a).

If a has nite order n, then a) =1, a, a

2

, . . . , a

n1

, and the order of a) is equal to

the order of a. An explicit realisation of this group is the set e

2ik/n

: k = 0, 1, . . . , n

1 of all complex nth roots of unity, with the operation of multiplication; another is

the set Z/nZ of integers mod n, with the operation of addition mod n. We denote the

cyclic group of order n by C

n

.

If a has innite order, then a) consists of all integer powers, positive and negative,

of a. (Negative powers are dened by a

m

= (a

1

)

m

; the usual laws of exponents hold,

for example, a

p+q

=a

p

a

q

.) An explicit realisation consists of the set of integers, with

the operation of addition. We denote the innite cyclic group by C

.

The cyclic group C

n

has a unique subgroup of order m for each divisor m of n; if

C

n

= a), then the subgroup of order m is a

n/m

). Similarly, C

= a) has a unique

subgroup a

k

) of index k for each positive integer k.

A presentation for the cyclic group of order n is C

n

=a [ a

n

= 1).

Proposition 2.1 The only group of prime order p, up to isomorphism, is the cyclic

group C

p

.

For if [G[ = p, and a is a non-identity element of G, then the order of a divides

(and so is equal to) p; so G =a).

2.2 Abelian groups[]

Cyclic groups are abelian; hence direct products of cyclic groups are also abelian. The

converse of this is an important theorem, whose most natural proof uses concepts of

rings and modules rather than group theory. We say that a group G is nitely generated

if there is a nite set S which is contained in no proper subgroup of G (equivalently,

every element of G is a product of elements of S and their inverses).

Theorem 2.2 (Fundamental Theorem of Abelian Groups) A nitely generated abelian

group is a direct product of cyclic groups. More precisely, such a group can be written

7

in the form

C

m

1

C

m

2

C

m

r

C

,

where m

i

[ m

i+1

for i = 1, . . . , r 1; two groups of this form are isomorphic if and only

if the numbers m

1

, . . . , m

r

and the numbers of innite cyclic factors are the same for

the two groups.

For example, there are three abelian groups of order 24 up to isomorphism:

C

24

, C

2

C

12

, C

2

C

2

C

6

.

(Write 24 in all possible ways as the product of numbers each of which divides the

next.)

2.3 Symmetric groups

Let be a set. A permutation of is a bijective map from to itself. The set of

permutations of , with the operation of composition of maps, forms a group. (We

write a permutation on the right of its argument, so that the composition f g means

rst f , then g: that is, ( f g) = ( f )g. Now as usual, we suppress the and

simply write the composition as f g.)

The closure, identity and inverse laws hold because we have taken all the permu-

tations; the associative law holds because composition of mappings is always associa-

tive: ( f (gh)) =(( f g)h) (both sides mean apply f , then g, then h). The group of

permutations of is called the symmetric group on , and is denoted by Sym(). In

the case where =1, 2, . . . , n, we denote it more briey by S

n

. Clearly the order of

S

n

is n!.

A permutation of can be written in cycle notation. Here is an example. Consider

the permutation f given by

1 3, 2 6, 3 5, 4 1, 5 4, 6 2, 7 7

in the symmetric group S

7

. Take a point of 1, . . . , 7, say 1, and track its succes-

sive images under f ; these are 1, 3, 5, 4 and then back to 1. So we create a cycle

(1, 3, 5, 4). Since not all points have been considered, choose a point not yet seen, say

2. Its cycle is (2, 6). The only point not visited is 7, which lies in a cycle of length 1,

namely (7). So we write

f = (1, 3, 5, 4)(2, 6)(7).

If there is no ambiguity, we suppress the cycles of length 1. (But for the identity per-

mutation, this would suppress everything; sometimes we write it as (1). The precise

convention is not important.)

8

The cycle structure of a permutation is the list of lengths of cycles in its cycle de-

composition. (A list is like a sequence, but the order of the entries is not signicant; it

is like a set, but elements can be repeated. The list [apple, apple, orange, apple, orange]

can be summarised as three apples and two oranges.)

Any permutation can be written in several different ways in cycle form:

the cycles can be written in any order, so (1, 3, 5, 4)(2, 6) = (2, 6)(1, 3, 5, 4).

each cycle can start at any point, so (1, 3, 5, 4) = (3, 5, 4, 1).

One can show that, if a

1

, a

2

, . . . are non-negative integers satisfying ia

i

= n, then the

number of elements of S

n

having a

i

cycles of length i for i = 1, 2, . . . is

n!

i

a

i

a

i

!

For if we write out the cycle notation with blanks for the entries, there are n! ways of

lling the blanks, and the denominator accounts for the ambiguities in writing a given

notation in cycle form.

The signicance of this number is the following:

Proposition 2.3 Two elements of the symmetric group Sym() are conjugate if and

only if they have the same cycle structure.

Hence the numbers just computed are the sizes of the conjugacy classes in S

n

.

For example, the following list gives the cycle structures and conjugacy class sizes

in S

4

:

Cycle structure Class size

[4] 6

[3, 1] 8

[2, 2] 3

[2, 1, 1] 6

[1, 1, 1, 1] 1

The cycle structure of a permutation gives more information too.

Proposition 2.4 The order of a permutation is the least common multiple of the lengths

of its cycles.

9

Exercise What is the largest order of an element of S

10

?

We dene the parity of a permutation g S

n

to be the parity of n c(g), where

c(g) is the number of cycles of g (including cycles of length 1). We regard parity as

an element of the group Z/2Z = even, odd of integers mod 2 (the cyclic group of

order 2).

Proposition 2.5 For n 2, parity is a homomorphism from S

n

onto the group C

2

.

The kernel of this parity homomorphism is the set of all permutations with even

parity. By the First Isomorphism Theorem, this is a normal subgroup of S

n

with in-

dex 2 (and so order n!/2), known as the alternating group, and denoted by A

n

. The

above calculation shows that A

4

the set of permutations with cycle types [3, 1], [2, 2]

and [1, 1, 1, 1]; there are indeed 12 such permutations.

2.4 General linear groups

The laws for abelian groups (closure, associativity, identity, inverse, and commutativ-

ity) will be familiar to you from other parts of algebra, notably ring theory and linear

algebra. Any ring, or any vector space, with the operation of addition, is an abelian

group.

More interesting groups arise from the multiplicative structure. Let R be a ring

with identity. Recall that an element u R is a unit if it has an inverse, that is, there

exists v R with uv =vu =1. Now let U(R) be the set of units of R. Since the product

of units is a unit, the inverse of a unit is a unit, and the identity is a unit, and since the

associative law holds for multiplication in a ring, we see that U(R) (with the operation

of multiplication) is a group, called the group of units of the ring R.

In the case where R is a eld, the group of units consists of all the non-zero ele-

ments, and is usually called the multiplicative group of R, written R

.

A very interesting case occurs when R is the ring of linear maps from V to itself,

where V is an n-dimensional vector space over a eld F. Then U(R) consists of the

invertible linear maps on V. If we choose a basis for V, then vectors are represented

by n-tuples, so that V is identied with F

n

; and linear maps are represented by n n

matrices. So U(R) is the group of invertible nn matrices over F. This is known as

the general linear group of dimension n over F, and denoted by GL(n, F).

Since we are interested in nite groups, we have to stop to consider nite elds

here. The following theorem is due to Galois:

Theorem 2.6 (Galois Theorem) The order of a nite eld is necessarily a prime

power. If q is any prime power, then there is up to isomorphism a unique eld of order

q.

10

For prime power q, this unique eld of order q is called the Galois eld of order q,

and is usually denoted by GF(q). In the case where q is a prime number, GF(q) is the

eld of integers mod q. We shorten the notation GL(n, GF(q)) to GL(n, q).

For example, here are the addition and multiplication table of GF(4). We see that

the additive group is the Klein group, while the multiplicative group is C

3

.

+ 0 1

0 0 1

1 1 0

0 1

1 0

0 1

0 0 0 0 0

1 0 1

0 1

0 1

Exercise In the case q = 2, so that GF(2) = 0, 1 is the eld of integers mod 2,

show that the invertible matrices are

1 0

0 1

0 1

1 0

1 1

0 1

1 1

1 0

1 0

1 1

0 1

1 1

.

Show that the group GL(2, 2) of order 6 consisting of these matrices is isomorphic to

the symmetric group S

3

.

Note that GL(1, F) is just the multiplicative group F

we recall that, for any nn matrices A and B, we have

det(AB) = det(A)det(B);

so the determinant map det is a homomorphism from GL(n, F) to F

. The kernel of

this homomorphism (the set of nn matrices with determinant 1) is called the special

linear group, and is denoted by SL(n, F). Again, if F = GF(q), we abbreviate this to

SL(n, q).

2.5 Dihedral and polyhedral groups

A symmetry of a gure in Euclidean space is a rigid motion (or the combination of a

rigid motion and a reection) of the space which carries the gure to itself. We can

regard the rigid motion as a linear map of the real vector space, so represented by a

matrix (assuming that the origin is xed). Alternatively, if we number the vertices of

the gure, then we can represent a symmetry by a permutation.

Let us consider the case of a regular polygon in the plane, say a regular n-gon.

Here are drawings for n = 4 (the square) and n = 5 (the regular pentagon).

11

s

s

s

s

1 2

3 4

&

&

&

&

&

&

f

f

f

f

f

f

ft t

t

t

t

The n-gon has n rotational symmetries, through multiples of 2/n. In addition,

there are n reections about lines of symmetry. The behaviour depends on the parity

of n. If n is even, there are two types of symmetry line; one joins opposite vertices, the

other joins midpoints of opposite sides. If n is odd, then each line of symmetry joins a

vertex to the midpoint of the opposite side.

The group of symmetries of the regular n-gon is called a dihedral group. We see

that it has order 2n, and contains a cyclic subgroup of order n consisting of rotations;

every element outside this cyclic subgroup is a reection, and has order 2. We denote

this group by D

2n

(but be warned that some authors call it D

n

).

In the case n = 4, numbering the vertices 1, 2, 3, 4 in clockwise order from the top

left as shown, the eight symmetries are

1 0

0 1

0 1

1 0

1 0

0 1

0 1

1 0

1 0

0 1

1 0

0 1

0 1

1 0

0 1

1 0

,

and the corresponding permutations are

1, (1, 2, 3, 4), (1, 3)(2, 4), (1, 4, 3, 2), (1, 2)(3, 4), (1, 4)(2, 3), (2, 4), (1, 3).

(The ordering is: rst the rotations, then the reections in vertical, horizontal, and

diagonal lines.)

The group D

2n

has a presentation

D

2n

=a, b [ a

n

= 1, b

2

= 1, ba = a

1

b).

I wont prove this in detail (I havent given a proper denition of a presentation!), but

note that every product of as and bs can be reduced to the form a

m

or a

m

b by using the

relations, where 0 mn1, so there are just 2n elements in the group given by the

presentation. But the dihedral group does satisfy these relations.

There are only ve regular polyhedra in three dimensions: the tetrahedron, cube,

octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron. Apart from the tetrahedron, they fall

into two dual pairs: cube and octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron. If you take

12

six vertices at the face centres of the cube, they are the vertices of an octahedron;

and similarly the face centres of the octahedron are the vertices of a cube. A similar

relation holds for the other pairs. So dual pairs have the same symmetry group. The

following table describes the symmetry groups and the rotation groups (which are

subgroups of index 2 in each case). As usual, C

n

, S

n

and A

n

are the cyclic group of

order n and the symmetric and alternating groups of degree n respectively.

Polyhedron Rotation group Symmetry group

Tetrahedron A

4

S

4

Cube S

4

S

4

C

2

Dodecahedron A

5

A

5

C

2

13

3 Group actions

A group is an abstract object, and often we need to represent it in a more concrete

way, for example, by permutations of a set, or by matrices over a eld. We want

the multiplication of the permutations or matrices to reect the operation in the given

group; that is to say, we want to have a homomorphism from the group to either a

symmetric group or a general linear group. Using a homomorphism allows us a little

extra exibility: it is possible that the homomorphism is not injective, so that different

group elements are represented by the same permutation or matrix.

In this chapter we look at representations by permutations, describe their struc-

ture, and look briey at some other counting problems which are developed further in

Enumerative Combinatorics.

3.1 Denition

An action of a group G on a set is a homomorphism from G to the symmetric group

Sym(). In other words, to each group element we associate a permutation, and the

product of group elements is associated with the composition of the corresponding

permutations. We will always have in mind a xed action ; so g is a permutation

of , and we can talk about (g) for . To simplify notation, we suppress the

name of the action, and simply write g for the image of under the permutation

corresponding to g.

Alternatively, we can dene an action of G on as a map from G to

satisfying the two laws

(a) ((, g), h) = (, gh) for all g, h G, .

(b) (, 1) = for all .

Again we simplify notation by suppressing the name : we write (, g) as g.

Then (a) says that (g)h = (gh); it follows from (a) and (b) that the map

g is a permutation of (its inverse is g

1

), and so we do indeed have a

homomorphism from G to Sym().

Example Let G = S

4

, and let be the set of three partitions of 1, 2, 3, 4 into two

sets of size 2. Any permutation in G can be used to transform the partitions: for

example, g = (1, 3, 4) maps 12[34 23[14 13[24. This gives an action of G on

a set of size 3, that is, a homomorphism from S

4

to S

3

. It is easily checked that this

homomorphism is onto, and that its kernel is the Klein group V

4

consisting of the

identity, (1, 2)(3, 4), (1, 3)(2, 4) and (1, 4)(2, 3). Thus V

4

is a normal subgroup of S

4

,

and S

4

/V

4

= S

3

(by the First Isomorphism Theorem).

14

Example There are several ways of making a group act on itself (that is, we take

= G):

Right multiplication: (x, g) = xg.

Left multiplication: (x, g) = g

1

x (the inverse is needed to ensure that acting with

g and then with h is the same as acting with gh).

Conjugation: (x, g) = g

1

xg.

The rst of these actions has an important consequence. The action by right multi-

plication is faithful: if (x, g) = (x, h) for all x G, then g = h. This means that the

action homomorphism from G into Sym(G) is one-to-one (its kernel is the identity).

By the First Isomorphism Theorem, the image of this map is a subgroup of Sym(G)

which is isomorphic to G. Hence:

Theorem 3.1 (Cayleys Theorem) Every group is isomorphic to a subgroup of some

symmetric group.

As well as motivating the study of symmetric groups and their subgroups, this the-

orem has historical importance. As noted earlier, group theory had existed as a mathe-

matical subject for a century before the group laws were written down by Walther von

Dyck in 1882. In those days the word group meant what we would now describe

as a permutation group or transformation group, that is, a subgroup of the symmetric

group. (In detail, a group was a set of transformations of a set which is closed under

composition, contains the identity transformation, and contains the inverse of each of

its elements. Since composition of transformations is associative, we see that every

transformation group is a group in the modern sense. In the other direction, Cayleys

theorem shows that every group is isomorphic to a transformation group; so, despite

the change in foundations, the actual subject matter of group theory didnt change at

all!

Finally, we note that the permutation group given by Cayleys Theorem can be

written down from the Cayley table of G: the permutation of G corresponding to the

element g G is just the column labelled g of the Cayley table. Referring back to the

two Cayley tables on page 2, we see that as permutation groups

C

4

= 1, (e, a, b, c), (e, b)(a, c), (e, c, b, a),

V

4

= 1, (e, a)(b, c), (e, b)(a, c), (e, c)(a, b).

Both these groups are abelian so we could have used rows rather than columns to get

the same result; but in general it makes a difference.

15

3.2 Orbits and stabilisers

Let G act on . We dene a relation on by the rule that if there is an

element g G such that g = . Then is an equivalence relation. (It is instructive

to see how the reexive, symmetric and transitive laws for follow from the identity,

inverse and closure laws for G.) The equivalence classes of this relation are called

orbits; we say that the action is transitive (or that G acts transitively on ) if there is

just one orbit.

We denote the orbit containing a point by Orb

G

().

For example, the action of G on itself by right multiplication is transitive; in the

action by conjugation, the orbits are the conjugacy classes.

Given a point , the stabiliser of is the set of elements of G which map it to

itself:

Stab

G

() =g G : g = .

Theorem 3.2 (Orbit-Stabiliser Theorem) Let G act on , and choose . Then

Stab

G

() is a subgroup of G; and there is a bijection between the set of right cosets

of Stab

G

() in G and the orbit Orb

G

() containing .

It follows from the Orbit-Stabiliser Theorem that [ Stab

G

()[ [ Orb

G

()[ =[G[.

The correspondence works as follows. Given Orb

G

(), by denition there

exists h G such that h = . Now it can be checked that the set of all elements

mapping to is precisely the right coset (Stab

G

())h.

Every subgroup of G occurs as the stabiliser in a suitable transitive action of G.

For let H be a subgroup of G. Let be the set of all right cosets of H in G, and

dene an action of G on by, formally, (Hx, g) = Hxg. (Informally we would write

(Hx)g = Hxg, but this conceals the fact that (Hx)g means the result of acting on the

point Hx with the element g, not just the product in the group, though in fact it comes

to the same thing!) It is readily checked that this really is an action of G, that it is

transitive, and that the stabiliser of the coset H1 = H is the subgroup H.

So the Orbit-Stabiliser Theorem can be regarded as a renement of Lagranges

Theorem.

3.3 The Orbit-Counting Lemma

The Orbit-Counting Lemma is a formula for the number of orbits of G on , in terms

of the numbers of xed points of all the permutations in G. Given an action of G on

, and g G, let x(g) be the number of xed points of g (strictly, of the permutation

of induced by g). The Lemma says that the number of orbits is the average value of

x(g), for g G.

16

Theorem 3.3 (Orbit-Counting Lemma) Let G act on . Then the number of orbits

of G on is equal to

1

[G[

gG

x(g).

The proof illustrates the Orbit-Stabiliser Theorem. We form a bipartite graph with

vertex set G; we put an edge between and g G if g =. Now we count

the edges of this graph.

On one hand, every element g G lies in x(g) edges; so the number of edges is

gG

x(g).

On the other hand, the point lies in [ Stab

G

()[ edges; so the number of edges

passing through points of Orb

G

() is [ Orb

G

()[ [ Stab

G

()[ = [G[, by the Orbit-

Stabiliser Theorem. So each orbit accounts for [G[ edges, and the total number of

edges is equal to [G[ times the number of orbits.

Equating the two expressions and dividing by [G[ gives the result.

Example The edges of a regular pentagon are coloured red, green and blue. How

many different ways can this be done, if two colourings which differ by a rotation or

reection of the pentagon are regarded as identical?

The question asks us to count the orbits of the dihedral group D

10

(the group of

symmetries of the pentagon) on the set of colourings with three colours. There are

3

5

colourings altogether, all xed by the identity. For a colouring to be xed by a

non-trivial rotation, all the edges have the same colour; there are just three of these.

For a colouring to be xed by a reection, edges which are images of each other under

the reection must get the same colour; three colours can be chosen independently, so

there are 3

3

such colourings.

Since there are four non-trivial rotations and ve reections, the Orbit-Counting

Lemma shows that the number of orbits is

1

10

(1 243+4 3+5 27) = 39.

17

4 Sylows Theorem

Sylows Theorem is arguably the most important theorem about nite groups, so I am

going to include a proof.

To begin, lets ask the question: is the converse of Lagranges Theorem true? In

other words, if G is a group of order n, and m is a divisor of n, does G necessarily

contain a subgroup of order m? We note that this statement is true for cyclic groups. As

an exercise, verify it for abelian groups (using the Fundamental Theorem of Abelian

Groups).

In fact it is not true in general. Let G be the alternating group A

4

. Then G is a

group of order 12, containing the identity, three elements with cycle type [2, 2], and

eight elements with cycle type [3, 1]. We claimthat Ghas no subgroup of order 6. Such

a subgroup must contain an element of order 3, since there are only four elements not

of order 3; also it must contain an element of order 2, since elements of order 3 come

in inverse pairs, both or neither of which lie in any subgroup, so there are an even

number of elements not of order 3, one of which is the identity. But it is not hard to

show that, if you choose any element of order 2 and any element of order 3, together

they generate the whole group.

4.1 Statement

Cauchy proved the rst partial converse to Lagranges Theorem:

Theorem 4.1 (Cauchys Theorem) Suppose that the prime p divides the order of the

group G. Then G contains an element of order p.

Sylows Theorem is a far-reaching extension of Cauchys. It is often stated as three

separate theorems; but I will roll it into one here.

Theorem 4.2 (Sylows Theorem) Let Gbe a group of order p

a

m, where p is a prime

not dividing m. Then

(a) G contains subgroups of order p

a

, any two of which are conjugate;

(b) any subgroup of G of p-power order is contained in a subgroup of order p

a

;

(c) the number of subgroups of order p

a

is congruent to 1 mod p and divides m.

Subgroups of order p

a

of G, that is, subgroups whose order is the largest power of

p dividing [G[, are called Sylow p-subgroups of G.

The smallest positive integer which has a proper divisor whose order is not a prime

power is 12; and we have seen that the group A

4

of order 12 has no subgroup of order 6.

So Sylows theorem cannot be improved in general!

18

4.2 Proof

This is quite a substantial proof; you may skip it at rst reading. You can nd different

proofs discussed in some of the references. The crucial tool is the Orbit-Stabiliser

Theorem, which is used many times, sometimes without explicit mention.

The proof uses two different actions of G. First, we consider the action on the set

consisting of all subsets of G of cardinality p

a

, by right multiplication: (X, g) =

Xg = xg : x X. Each orbit consists of sets covering all elements of G. (For, if

x X, and y is any element, then y X(x

1

y).) So there are two kinds of orbits:

(A) orbits of size m, forming a partition of G;

(B) orbits of size greater than m.

Now by the Orbit-Stabiliser Theorem, the size of any orbit divides [G[; so an orbit of

type (B) must have size divisible by p. But [[ =

p

a

m

p

a

a number-theoretic exercise); so there must be orbits of type (A). Again by the Orbit-

Stabiliser Theorem, the stabiliser of a set in an orbit of type (A) is a subgroup of order

p

a

(and the orbit consists of its right cosets). This shows that subgroups of order p

a

exist.

Now consider a different action of G, on the set of all Sylow subgroups of G by

conjugation (that is, (P, g) = g

1

Pg).

We rst observe that, if Q is a subgroup of G of p-power order which stabilises a

Sylow subgroup P in this action, then Q P; for otherwise PQ is a subgroup of order

[P[ [Q[/[PQ[, a power of p strictly greater than p

a

, which is not possible. (Further

discussion of this point is at the end of this section.)

Take P. Then P stabilises itself, but no other Sylowsubgroup (by the preceding

remark), so all other orbits of P have size divisible by p. We conclude that [[, the

number of Sylow p-subgroups, is congruent to 1 mod p.

Now G-orbits are unions of P-orbits, so the G-orbit containing P has size congru-

ent to 1 mod p, and every other G-orbit has size congruent to 0 mod p. But P was

arbitrary; so there is only a single orbit, whence all the Sylow p-subgroups are conju-

gate. The number of them is [G : N[, where N = Stab

G

(P); since P N, this number

divides [G : P[ = m.

Finally, if Q is any subgroup of p-power order, then the orbits of Q on all have

p-power size; since [[ is congruent to 1 mod p, there must be an orbit P of size 1,

and so Q P by our earlier remark.

All parts of the theorem are now proved.

Here is a two-part lemma which we made use of in the above proof. The proof

is an exercise. If H is a subgroup of G, we say that the element g G normalises

19

H if g

1

Hg = H; and we say that the subgroup K normalises H if all its elements

normalise H. Thus H is a normal subgroup of G if and only if G normalises H. By

HK we mean the subset hk : h H, k K of G (not in general a subgroup).

Lemma 4.3 Let H and K be subgroups of G. Then

(a) [HK[ =[H[ [K[/[HK[;

(b) if K normalises H, then HK is a subgroup of G.

4.3 Applications

There are many applications of Sylows Theorem to the structure of groups. Here is

one, the determination of all groups whose order is the product of two distinct primes.

Theorem 4.4 Let G be a group of order pq, where p and q are primes with p > q.

(a) If q does not divide p1, then G is cyclic.

(b) If q divides p1, then there is one type of non-cyclic group, with presentation

G =a, b [ a

p

= 1, b

q

= 1, b

1

ab = a

k

)

for some k satisfying k

q

1 mod p, k ,1 mod p.

Proof Let P be a Sylow p-subgroup and Q a Sylow q-subgroup. Then P and Q are

cyclic groups of prime orders p and q respectively. The number of Sylow p-subgroups

is congruent to 1 mod p and divides q; since q < p, there is just one, so PG.

Similarly, the number of Sylow q-subgroups is 1 or p, the latter being possible

only if p 1 mod q.

Suppose there is a unique Sylow q-subgroup. Let P and Q be generated by el-

ements a and b respectively. Then b

1

ab = a

k

and a

1

ba = b

l

for some r, s. So

a

k1

= a

1

b

1

ab = b

l+1

. This element must be the identity, since otherwise its or-

der would be both p and q, which is impossible. So ab = ba. Then we see that the

order of ab is pq, so that G is the cyclic group generated by ab.

In the other case, q divides p 1, and we have b

1

ab = a

k

for some k. Then an

easy induction shows that b

s

ab

s

=a

k

s

. Since b

q

=1 we see that k

q

1 mod p. There

are exactly q solutions to this equation; if k is one of them, the others are powers of k,

and replacing b by a power of itself will have the effect of raising k to the appropriate

power. So all these different solutions are realised within the same group.

In particular, the only non-cyclic group of order 2p, where p is an odd prime, is

the dihedral group a, b [ a

p

= 1, b

2

= 1, b

1

ab = a

1

).

20

There are two groups of order 21, the cyclic group and the group

a, b [ a

7

= 1, b

3

= 1, b

1

ab = a

2

);

in this group, if we replace b by b

2

, we replace the exponent 2 by 4 in the last relation.

21

5 Composition series

A non-trivial group G always has at least two normal subgroups: the whole group

G, and the identity subgroup 1. We call G simple if there are no other normal

subgroups. Thus, a cyclic group of prime order is simple. We will see that there are

other simple groups.

In this section we will discuss the JordanH older Theorem. This theorem shows

that, in a certain sense, simple groups are the building blocks of arbitrary nite

groups. In order to describe any nite group, we have to give a list of its composition

factors (which are simple groups), and describe how these blocks are glued together

to form the group.

5.1 The JordanH older Theorem

Suppose that the group G is not simple: then it has a normal subgroup N which is

neither 1 nor G, so the two groups N and G/N are smaller than G. If either or both

of these is not simple, we can repeat the procedure. We will end up with a list of

simple groups. These are called the composition factors of G.

More precisely, a composition series for G is a sequence of subgroups

1 = G

0

G

1

G

2

G

r

= G,

so that each subgroup is normal in the next (as shown), and the quotient group G

i+1

/G

i

is simple for i = 0, 1, . . . , r 1.

We can produce a composition series by starting from the series 1G and ren-

ing it as follows. If we have G

i

G

i+1

and G

i+1

/G

i

is not simple, let it have a normal

subgroup N; then there is a subgroup N

of G

i+1

containing G

i

by the Correspondence

Theorem, with G

i

N

G

i+1

, and we may insert another term in the sequence.

(The Correspondence Theorem, sometimes called the Second Isomorphism The-

orem, asserts that, if A is a normal subgroup of B, then there is a bijection between

subgroups of B/A and subgroups of B containing A, under which normal subgroups

correspond to normal subgroups. The bijection works in the obvious way: if C B/A,

then elements of C are cosets of A, and the union of all these cosets gives the corre-

sponding subgroup C

of B containing A.)

Now, given a composition series for G, say

1 = G

0

G

1

G

2

G

r

= G,

we have r simple groups G

i+1

/G

i

. We are interested in them up to isomorphism; the

composition factors of G are the isomorphism types. (We think of them as forming a

list, since the same composition factor can occur more than once.)

22

For a simple example, let G =C

12

. Here are three composition series:

1C

2

C

4

C

12

1C

2

C

6

C

12

1C

3

C

6

C

12

The composition factors are C

2

(twice) and C

3

, but the order differs between series.

Theorem 5.1 (JordanH older Theorem) Any two composition series for a nite group

G give rise to the same list of composition factors.

Note that the product of the orders of the composition factors of G is equal to the

order of G.

5.2 Groups of prime power order

In this section, we will see that a group has order a power of the prime p if and only if

all of its composition factors are the cyclic group of order p.

One way round this is clear, since the order of G is the product of the orders of its

composition factors. The other depends on the following denition and theorem. The

centre of a group G, denoted by Z(G), is the set of elements of G which commute with

everything in G:

Z(G) =g G : gx = xg for all x G.

It is clearly a normal subgroup of G.

Theorem 5.2 Let G be a group of order p

n

, where p is prime and n > 0. Then

(a) Z(G) ,=1;

(b) G has a normal subgroup of order p.

To prove this, we let G act on itself by conjugation. By the Orbit-Stabiliser Theo-

rem, each orbit has size a power of p, and the orbit sizes sum to p

n

. Now by denition,

Z(G) consists of all the elements which lie in orbits of size 1. So the number of ele-

ments not in Z(G) is divisible by p, whence the number in Z(G) is also. But there is at

least one element in Z(G), namely the identity; so there are at least p such elements.

Now, if g is an element of order p in Z(G), then g) is a normal subgroup of G of

order p.

This proves the theorem, and also nds the start of a composition series: we take

G

1

to be the subgroup given by part (b) of the theorem. Now we apply induction to

G/G

1

to produce the entire composition series. We see that all the composition factors

have order p.

We note in passing the following result:

23

Proposition 5.3 Let p be prime.

(a) Every group of order p

2

is abelian.

(b) There are just two such groups, up to isomorphism

For let [G[ = p

2

. If [Z(G)[ = p

2

, then certainly G is abelian, so suppose that

[Z(G)[ = p. Then G/Z(G) is a cyclic group of order p, generated say by the coset

Z(G)a; then every element of G has the form za

i

, where z Z(G) and i = 0, 1, . . . , p

1. By inspection, these elements commute.

Finally, the Fundamental Theorem of Abelian Groups shows that there are just two

abelian groups of order p

2

, namely C

p

2 and C

p

C

p

.

This theorem shows that the list of composition factors of a group does not de-

termine the group completely, since each of these two groups has two composition

factors C

p

. So the glueing process is important too. In fact, worse is to come. The

number of groups of order p

n

grows very rapidly as a function of n. For example, it is

known that the number of groups of order 1024 = 2

10

is more than fty billion; all of

these groups have the same composition factors (namely C

2

ten times)!

Remark At this point, we have determined the structure of all groups whose order

has at most two prime factors (equal or different); so we know all the groups of order

less than 16 except for the orders 8 and 12.

5.3 Soluble groups

A nite group G is called soluble if all its composition factors are cyclic of prime

order.

Historically, soluble groups arose in the work of Galois, who was considering

the problem of solubility of polynomial equations by radicals (that is, the existence

of formulae for the roots like the formula (b

b

2

4ac)/2a for the roots of a

quadratic. It had already been proved by Rufni and Abel that no such formula exists

in general for polynomials of degree 5. Galois associated with each polynomial a

group, now called the Galois group of the polynomial, and showed that the polynomial

is soluble by radicals if and only if its Galois group is a soluble group. The result on

degree 5 comes about because the smallest simple group which is not cyclic of prime

order (and, hence, the smallest insoluble group) is the alternating group A

5

, as we shall

see.

I will not discuss soluble groups in detail here, but note just one theorem.

Theorem 5.4 A nite group G is soluble if and only if it has a series of subgroups

1 < H

1

< H

2

< < H

s

= G

24

such that each H

i

is a normal subgroup of G, and each quotient H

i+1

/H

i

is abelian for

i = 0, 1, . . . , s 1.

(Note that in the denition of a composition series, each subgroup is only required

to be normal in the next, not in the whole group.)

This theorem is important because the denition we gave of a soluble group makes

no sense in the innite case. So instead, we use the condition of the theorem as the

denition of solubility in the case of innite groups.

5.4 Simple groups

In the course, we will spend some time discussing simple groups other than cyclic

groups of prime order. Here, for a starter, is the argument showing that they exist.

Theorem 5.5 The alternating group A

5

is simple.

The group G = A

5

consists of the even permutations of 1, . . . , 5. (Recall that

even permutations are those for which the number of cycles is congruent to the degree

mod 2.) Their cycle types and numbers are given in the following table.

Cycle type Number

[1, 1, 1, 1, 1] 1

[1, 2, 2] 15

[1, 1, 3] 20

[5] 24

Since a normal subgroup must be made up of entire conjugacy classes, our next

task is to determine these.

It is easy to see that all the elements of order 2 are conjugate, as are all those of

order 3. The elements of order 5 are not all conjugate, but the subgroups of order 5 are

(by Sylows Theorem), and a potential normal subgroup must therefore either contain

all or none of them.

So if N is a normal subgroup of A

5

, then [N[ is the sum of some of the numbers 1,

15, 20, 24, certainly including 1 (since it must contain the identity), and must divide

60 (by Lagranges Theorem).

It is straightforward to see that the only possibilities are [N[ = 1 and [N[ = 60. So

A

5

is simple.

25

Exercise Show that there is no simple group of non-prime order less than 60.

In perhaps the greatest mathematical achievement of all time, all the nite simple

groups have been determined. We will say more about this in the course. But, by way

of introduction, they fall into four types:

(a) cyclic groups of prime order;

(b) alternating groups A

n

(these are simple for all n 5);

(c) the so-called groups of Lie type, which are closely related to certain matrix

groups over nite elds for example, if G = SL(n, q), then G/Z(G) is simple

for all n 2 and all prime powers q except for n = 2 and q = 2 or q = 3;

(d) twenty-six so-called sporadic groups, most of which are dened as symmetry

groups of various algebraic or combinatorial congurations.

The proof of this simply-stated theorem is estimated to run to about 10000 pages!

This theorem means that, if we regard the JordanH older theorem as reducing

the description of nite groups to nding their composition factors and glueing them

together, then the rst part of the problem is solved, and only the second part remains

open.

26

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